Stretching Fundamentals: Why, When, and How?

Stretching Fundamentals: Why, When, and How?

 Far from being just a warmup for training, stretching is a health-promoting exercise in itself. It's natural to feel the need to stretch after your muscles become stiff from being stuck in a fixed range of motion (sitting in desk), and doing so benefits your physique and even your mood. 

A good stretch routine oxygenates your muscles by putting your body through full ranges of motion and keeps them prime for everyday movement patterns so you can function physically without pain.

How to Stretch & Why It's Good for You

By promoting flexibility in your muscle tissue, you protect them from the ails of tension, such as aches, pains and cramps. Keeping muscle tightness at bay also greatly improve posture and balance.

Increases Your Range of Motion

Stretching and practicing full-body movement patterns aids in improving your mobility and range of motion of your joints. This comes in handy for working out, but it's also important to stretch regularly as you age. Whereas tension and tightness shorten muscles, stretching lengthens them, thereby loosening stored tension.

Boosts Circulation

Stretching helps get fresh blood circulating in muscles, lending their cells sufficient oxygen, glucose and other nutrient uptake.

Wherever you stretch, you stimulate blood flow. With a full-body stretch routine, the net gain is better energy and less stress.

Enhances Performance

Resulting from the combination of the benefits already mentioned, stretching enhances muscle coordination, allowing you to perform better during exercise and other activities. With the release of tension, muscles are able to align evenly on your skeletal system and function like well-oiled machines. Nutrient-rich blood enters the depths of muscles and helps flush away metabolic waste, thereby optimizing your muscles for work and recovery.

Do's and Don'ts of Stretching

Like any exercise, stretches must be performed with proper technique to prevent injury and get the most out of them. Without attention to form, you risk overstretching or straining your muscles. Learning how to stretch properly is vital, and knowing when to stretch (and when not) is also important.

Do: Warm Up First

Stretching is often thought of as the warm up itself. The problem is, stretching "cold" muscles can result in straining them. After a light jog or even walking for five minutes, muscles become better distributed with blood, preparing them to lengthen effectively. 

Do: Hold for at Least 20 Seconds

The ideal hold time for a stretch is 30 seconds. Give at least 20 seconds to allow your muscle to stretch. Once you release the stretch, you can repeat it. Holding a stretch too long can cut off blood flow to the muscle.

Do: Remember to Breathe

Beware of holding your breath while you hold a stretch. Breathing deeply helps relax your muscles by oxygenating them and trains your body to be adjust to the new position. 

Do: Stretch After a Workout

Stretching after a strength training workout is shown to help promote muscle growth. It flushes out the lactic acid that builds up as metabolic waste during weight lifting, returning it to the blood supply where your body eliminates it. Lactic acid buildup causes delayed muscle onset soreness (DOMS) after a training session, whereas releasing the buildup allows you to recover faster.

Don't: Stretch Before Weight Lifting

Stretching before weight lifting isn't recommended because it impedes your performance. In fact, the idea that stretching beforehand prevents injury has been debunked by scientists. The best thing to do before weight lifting is to warm up your body with a light jog before weight training, as you would before stretching. 

Don't: Bounce During a Stretch

Ballistic stretching is the technique of bouncing the stretch while you hold it, pushing the edge of your flexibility. While previously it was a practice, ballistic stretching is no longer recommended. Research shows it causes microtears in muscles and increases the risk of injury.

Don't: Stretch to the Point of Pain

If you're stretching muscles affected by the soreness of prior strength training, you're bound to feel some pain. Generally, however, stretching shouldn't feel painful. You may feel discomfort, but pushing past this to the point of pain isn't gainful. 

Alternatives to Stretching

Stretching works to restore blood flow to your muscles, but for a truly holistic approach, there are other techniques to consider. 

Myofascial Release

Fascia is a thin sleeve of fibrous tissue around each muscle that keeps the muscle tissue separate from other muscles, as well as your bones and other organs.  When fascia gets knotted or strained, you can end up with adhesions that are difficult to get rid of by stretching. 

Foam rollers are massage tools used to compress muscles with your own body weight and roll over them like a rolling pin kneading through dough. In addition to other myofascial release tools, such as massage balls and massage sticks, foam rollers help break up knots in fascia and restore its functioning. 

Inversion Therapy

An inversion table allows you to shift upside down and remove the pressure of gravity from your back. Inversion therapy is a great complement to stretching because it decompresses the vertebrae of your spine, allowing blood to flow through the spinal disks. 

Vibration Treatments

The vibration of muscle tissue helps achieve similar benefits as stretching, such as better blood flow and enhanced performance. A foot circulator transmits vibratory stimulus via the feet, sending the minute vibrations into the body to break up musculoskeletal stiffness. Massage guns are used to vibrate localized trigger points, such as a sore quadricep. 

Improve Your Flexibility

Stretching is a great way to relieve stress while promoting fitness and protecting against muscle and joint pain. You become more limber with consistent practice over time, but short-term benefits manifest the he meantime, including better energy, mood and range of motion. Stretching after (not before) weight lifting is the best way to maximize your training efforts and prevent injuries. 
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